Taking Stock of Women’s Progress at Democratic Convention


Women who supported Hillary Clinton for president may be inclined to measure the Democratic National Convention in Denver for what it is not: a place where history will be made with the first woman at the top of a major-party presidential ticket.

Yet the convention can also be used as a measure for what it is: a showcase of the progress women have made over the last century.

Women’s rights activists descended on the Democratic National Convention in Denver a century ago to demand that the Democrats give women the vote–a policy that was not included in the party platform and was not a priority among the Democratic delegates, almost all of whom were male, according to the Denver Post.

The only women in attendance that year were delegates from Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, all states where women were enfranchised, according to the Post. Suffragists staged protests outside the convention to demand enfranchisement, some wearing the latest styles from Paris–"a sheath dress with a slit from the ankle to the knee, flashing the female calf" to stir controversy garner attention, according to the Denver Post.

Fast forward a century and women are on the inside, running much of the show.

To be sure, the spotlight is still on men. Barack Obama will accept his party’s presidential nomination on Thursday, and another man, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, will run alongside him in the No. 2 spot. Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, meanwhile, was chosen to give the convention’s keynote address–an opportunity that launched the political careers of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, to name a few.

But women, as I reported this week in Women’s eNews, have unprecedented power at this year’s convention.

For the first time ever, all four convention chairs–the people who preside over convention proceedings–are women. And women hold five of the seven senior leadership positions on the convention committee and are in charge of managing day-to-day strategy and operations.

Women also have major speaking roles the first two days of the convention. Michelle Obama headlines on Monday, Aug. 25, and Clinton will speak on Tuesday, the 88th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.

Several other prominent female politicians will also give prime-time speeches, including Pelosi; Lily Ledbetter, who lost a Supreme Court case for the right to sue employers for wage discrimination; and early female Obama backers including Sebelius, Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, all of whom were mentioned as possible vice presidential nominees.

The 186-member Platform Drafting Committee, headed by Napolitano, approved inclusion in the platform of an enhanced section on women’s rights that states, "We believe that standing up for our country means standing up against sexism and all intolerance…Responsibility lies with us all."

The Democratic National Convention may not be what many of Clinton’s fans were hoping for, but it still represents undeniable progress in the march for women’s equality.

Allison Stevens is Washington Bureau Chief of Women’s eNews.

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  • invalid-0

    I appreciate your comments, but I can’t agree with them. The roll-call vote was especially painful, as women played the secretarial role (even if they technically presided) to write down votes that were manufactured. Hillary won half the votes, and they should have honored that. Just because Hillary has been forced into a position that no other man, including the sainted Ted, has been put in does not mean that we should feel good that her accomplishments and our democratically earned votes were not honored.